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Direct Deposit

Local banks and credit unions team up to help the city's "unbanked" population.

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Memphian Autumn Jones hasn't had a bank account in years, and she doesn't want one.

"One bounced check totally ruined all my finances, and now I think it's cheaper not to have an account," the 31-year-old Berclair resident said. "If you don't put your money into the bank, you can't spend money you don't have."

Though Jones is perfectly happy without a bank account, a new city-backed program is aimed at bringing people like her back into the mainstream banking system. Bank On Memphis, modeled after programs in San Francisco and Boston, encourages banks and credit unions to develop low- or no-fee checking and savings accounts for citizens without bank accounts.

"We're trying to cut the cost for people who are unbanked," said Corky Neale, director of research with the RISE Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping low- and moderate-income people gain and sustain assets.

Approximately 96,000 people in the Memphis metro area do not have a banking account. Those people spend an estimated $800 to $1,200 a year on check-cashing and money-order fees.

"Check-cashing places charge about 4 to 5 percent of a payroll check, so that may be $25 for a $500 check," said Keith Turbett, community development manager for Suntrust, one of Bank On Memphis' participating banks. "For somebody earning at the low end of the pay scale, that's eating into some grocery money."

Recently, Memphis-area bank and credit union CEOs and presidents met with Memphis mayor A C Wharton, the RISE Foundation, and the Memphis branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis to discuss the Bank On Memphis program details.

"The number-one reason people are unbanked seems to be that they don't believe they have enough money," Neale said. "Along with that, a lot of people don't trust banks or some people have had bad experiences with banks. They may have had an overdraft and gotten thrown out of the system, and there's some bad vibes there."

A Bank On Memphis committee is currently identifying low and no-fee accounts at participating banks. They hope to start signing people up for bank accounts by December.

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